To escape the Berlin bustle on a summer afternoon, all that Derek O’Doyle and his dog Frida have to do is lap the noisy building site outside their inner-city apartment, weave their way through the queue in front of the ice-cream van, and squeeze between two gridlocked lorries to cross over Baerwaldstrasse.
Bordered by a one-way traffic system lies a bucolic 1,720 sq metre haven as colourful as a Monet landscape: blue cornflowers, red poppies, white cow parsley and purple field scabious dot a sea of nettles and wild grass as armies of insects buzz through the air. Two endangered carpenter bees, larger than their honey bee cousins and with pitch-black abdomens, gorge themselves on a bush of yellow gorse.
The mini-wilderness on Baerwaldstrasse is one of more than 100 wildflower meadows that have been planted in Germany’s largest cities over the past three years and are coming into full bloom this summer to transform urban landscapes.
Berlin has set aside EUR1.5m to seed and nurture more than 50 wild gardens over a five-year period, while Munich has set up about 30 meadows since 2018. There are similar initiatives in Stuttgart, Leipzig and Braunschweig. Hamburg, which started the trend in 2015, this month unveiled the first of a series of bee-friendly flower beds atop bus shelters.
Juliana Schlaberg of Germany’s Nature and Biodiversity Conservation Union (NABU) said her NGO was receiving more and more requests from city residents who either wanted to grow their own wildflower patches or pressure their council to stop cutting green spaces into manicured lawns.
At first, many of the city meadows met local resistance – from sunbathers, picnickers and especially dog walkers. “I was quite sceptical at first”, said O’Doyle, an Irishman who has lived in the German capital for over a decade. “It looked disorganised. And I resented the loss of a large patch of grass where I could play catch with my dog.”
But the rain-heavy start to this year’s German summer has created a bloom so spectacular that many a doubter has been swayed. The organisers behind the scheme deliberately mixed in endangered flowers that take two years to come into their prime with populist Akzeptanzpflanzen (“acceptance plants”) like poppies and cornflowers, which blossom after only a year. Three years on, the full floral array is on display.
“I’ve changed my mind,” said O’Doyle. “It’s become an incredibly attractive addition to our neighbourhood. You experience the seasons in a whole new way.”